PENNSYLVANIA (WTAJ) – There are over 480 species of wild birds and 66 species of wild mammals in Pennsylvania, according to the PA Game Commission. Of those, 23 species are endangered.
However, you might be more familiar with some than other.
Everyone’s seen a white-tailed deer and maybe even avoided hitting one on a back road, but have you ever seen a short-eared owl? What about a least shrew? These are just some of the endangered animals that reside in the Keystone State.
The short-eared owl
This owl receives its name from its short “ear” tufts. It’s about 13 – 17 inches in height and its wingspan is 38 -44 inches. It varies from light to dark brown, but it has noticeable dark circles around its eyes with patches under its wings.
Unlike most owls, you may see them during the day. They are active at dusk, dawn and even midday. You can find them hunting in large open fields of tall grass and strip mines, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Short-eared owls have declined across their range as suitable habitat, namely grasslands, marshes, and infrequently-used pastures, have been lost to development, converted to more intensive agricultural practices. You can learn more about short-eared owl here.
The little brown bat
The little brown bat is found statewide and is around 3.1 inches to 3.7 inches in length. They normally weigh between 0.25 and 0.35 ounces. Female little brown bats are slightly larger than males and as you may have guessed they a rich brown/bronze color. Dark spots can usually be found on their shoulders.
These little creatures usually start their day around dusk when they hit the sky looking for a variety of bugs to chow down on. Despite being so small these guys can catch over 1,000 insects per hour.
In October and November, little brown bats head to tunnels, mine shafts and caves to hibernate for the winter. Each year they return to the same space. The greatest threat to bats comes from humans in the form of getting hit by cars, wind farms, introduced disease, and disturbances while hibernating. White-nose syndrome is also a relatively new disease that has started to reek havoc. It’s an exotic fungus that causes fungal infections on the wing membranes and other exposed skin, eventually leading to death in most bats that encounter it.
You can learn more about the little brown bat and other Pa species of bats here.
The king rail
The king rail is both endangered and protected in Pennsylvania. This bird gets its name from large size and bright coloration. They range from 15 to 19 inches in height and have 21 – to 25 -inch wingspans. Their bills are long, slightly decurved, and yellow with brown tips.
They tend to nest in large wetlands and marshy fields. King rails often hunt in shallow water and eat crustaceans, smaller fish, frogs and insects. The decline in these birds is mainly due to losses of marshland habitat. They seem particularly vulnerable to collisions with fences, telephone lines and automobiles, according to the Pa Game Commission.
You can learn more about king rails here.
The loggerhead shrike
For uncertain reasons, ranging from pesticides to changes in land use these robin-sized, gray-and-black birds have experienced a natural decline across Pennsylvania. These birds have a white patch on each of their wings. Not to mention they each have a black mask that covers their eyes.
It’s small and heavy stature makes it a formidable predator for small mammal and birds, as well as insects. They also often referred to as “Butcher birds” due to the graphic nature of their hunting. You can learn more about how they get this nickname here.
Loggerhead shrikes prefer to live in short grass pastures with scattered shrubs and fencerows or small utility lines. Most studies point to collisions with vehicles on country roads as a major factor affecting shrike populations, according to the Pa Game Commission.
Learn more about the loggerhead shrike here.
The northern flying squirrel
Flying squirrels have skin flaps, called patagia, that they use to steer while gliding from tree to tree. On average they can travel 65 feet by gliding. Northern flying squirrels are similar in appearance to the common southern flying squirrel, but can be slightly larger, with an overall body length of eight to 11 inches.
The squirrels back fur is usually a tan or brown and the belly fur (that is between its legs) is white at the tip and lead colored near its skin. They will mostly be spotted during the evening hours and prefer to live in boreal forests that contain a heavy coniferous component, moist soils, and lots of downed woody debris.
Northern flying squirrels rely on specific fungi that are dependent on hemlock and spruce trees. However, this fungi is declining due to an invasive insect (hemlock wooly adelgid). Development of forests has also contributed to the squirrel becoming endangered.
Learn more about the northern flying squirrel here.
The northern goshawk
The northern goshawk has the typical shape of a forest raptor with short, round wings and a long tail. It’s also Pennsylvania’s largest accipiter, meaning that it’s a forest-dwelling hawk that hunts by a close-quarters ambush, dash and catch strategy.
Adults are slate grey above and the a gray and white below. Juveniles are brown overall with a mottled back and buffy underneath with dense streaking. These hawks have a reputation of being one of the most aggressive.
The northern goshawk is an opportunistic bird of prey, feeding on primarily medium-sized mammals and birds with the occasional reptile and insect.
The current issues that have contributed to the birds decline are a combination of habitat loss and degradation, disturbance near nests, diseases, predation and prey availability and climate change.
You learn more about the northern goshawk here.
The least shrew
In Pennsylvania, the majority of least shrews have a pale to dark brown back and a pale to light brown belly. The total length of the least shrew is from three to 3 ½ inches and despite how it looks, these compact creatures have ears hidden underneath that velvety hair.
The least shrew is a grassland species restricted to habitats that are free from grazing and intensive agricultural practices. They feed primarily on insects and their larva, earthworms, spiders and sometimes snails. It is sometimes referred to as the “bee mole” because it has been found to infrequently enter bee hives and feed on the brood.
According to the Pa Game Commission, the loss of hayfields, meadows and fencerows has contributed to the declining number of least shrews in Pa.
Here’s how you can help!
There are hundreds of ways to help wildlife, but it can be broken down into three main categories. Habitat management, being ethical and contributing.
Habitat management is usually in reference to those who own large plots of land and farmers. The Pa Game Commission asks that farmers delay the mowing of hay until July to save grassland species and to protect large, open areas that many different species nest/hunt in. They also recommend integrated pest management to decrease environmental pollution. You can learn more about habitat management here.
The second aspect of helping is to remember to be ethical when you’re out in nature. Always keep your distance from wild animals. Make sure to leave any animal undisturbed. It’s best practices to be quiet and back away! You should practice leaving no trace. Don’t litter and make sure that if you see any trash to pick it up and throw it away. Learn more about ethical wildlife decisions here.
Lastly you can always contribute, whether that be donating to a conservation or reporting your findings. You can help researches by keeping track of the wildlife you see in your area. Especially if you think it might be an endangered animal. Learn more about the ways you can contribute here.
Check some cool Earth Day events that are happening in Central Pennsylvania here. There are lots of great things you can do right in your area!